Christine Johnson feels like she’s flying when she performs pole art. But this week, moments before she was to take to the stage at a festival in Moncton, N.B.,, her wings were clipped.
Johnson says a rotary club committee member told her that she, and her performance and costume, were not “family-friendly,” and that she would not be allowed to perform.
Her performance that night was going to be dedicated to a friend who was battling brain cancer. Her equipment had been set up all day. She had been preparing for weeks.
But none of these things mattered, she said. After being barred from the stage at the Rotary Ribfest Moncton, Johnson made a Facebook post explaining her frustration with the stigma of being a pole performer.
“Last night was a big realization for me that the battle is still very real and that so many people still need to be educated on what pole art is. It’s a sport, I am an athlete, an acrobat and what I do is no different than a gymnast on a balancing beam,” Johnson wrote. “(The Rotary Club member) stereotyped me, insulted me and gave me no chance to explain or express my truth.”
Johnson is a pole artist who has been practising the creative sport for more than five years. She teaches lessons and has placed first in multiple pole fitness competitions. But she says she is “always careful” with how she describes her passion to others.
“If I call it pole dancing, I often feel that right away, people’s minds go to the wrong place,” she told CTV News Atlantic.
Pole dancing was created by women working in strip clubs, but the art — which involves strength and control over one’s body — has expanded to be taught in gyms across the country as a creative pastime for fitness.
Many pole artists struggle against the misconception that their performances are inappropriate for public venues or broader audiences. Johnson believes she was stopped from performing due to a “misunderstanding.”
In the moment she said she tried to “express myself right away (and) defend myself and say ‘oh no, you don’t understand, have you ever seen Cirque du Soleil?’ And I was really trying to show him that what I do is not what you’re thinking.”
In her Facebook post, Johnson said she wanted to share her story because she knew she wasn’t alone in her goal to change how the general public viewed pole art.
“I am a woman and not ashamed of my body and in no way is the way I was treated ok. Part of my art happens to incorporate my body like any form of dance or gymnastics and it takes so much courage and bravery to put myself out there like I do,” she wrote. “I know my worth and I want to be a voice for any women out there that have been forced to go through situations like this.”
Johnson received hundreds of supportive comments on social media after she made her story public.
“The amount of support and feedback and love that I’ve gotten—I haven’t even responded yet because I’m so overwhelmed and I just feel so blessed,” she said.
When one supporter and friend brought their anger to the Rotary Ribfest Moncton’s Facebook page, the organization said in a reply that they were “also very disappointed with the way things turned out.
“Christine is a beautiful artist and didn't deserve how she was treated,” the club said. “An apology will be offered as we certainly recognize that an injustice occurred"
They said, however, that the “controversial situation” had a “positive side.”
“Christine has helped raise awareness to her art and remove some of the stereotypes associated with pole art,” the club said.
Johnson says she does not hold any ill will towards the club, and recognizes that the views of some members are not shared by everyone.